31plymouth

How long did people keep their cars in the 30's 40's 50's?

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I'll add a couple of items to the comments about having to drive a late-model luxury car to keep up appearances.  Both come from the six years I lived in Minnesota in the late '60s and worked for Prudential.

 

Young doctors setting up practice in a small town were told that, if they aspired to someday drive a Cadillac, they should buy one before they arrived in town.  If they waited until their practice was successful before moving up to their first Cadillac, their patients would believe they'd been overcharged and resent the doctor's success.

 

Prudential had an extremely successful salesman who managed his own agency in Detroit.  He knew, and had as clients, many auto company executives, and would visit them in their offices to review and upgrade their life insurance portfolios.  But, what to drive to the appointment?  He couldn't appear at the Ford plant in a Cadillac, or the GM plant in a Lincoln, and he didn't want to maintain a fleet of cars.  So he bought a Rolls-Royce.  And from then on, whenever he appeared at an auto plant to call on an executive, he was directed to a preferred parking spot.  And when he emerged from the meeting, his car had been washed and waxed.

 

 

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Benefits of AACA Membership.

Posted (edited)

During their early car buying years, my family lived in Brooklyn, New York.  My grandfather, "Pop" as we used to call him, had a 1938 Chevrolet that he sold in 1942 at the beginning of WWII when gas was being rationed in New York.  Being frugal, Pop gave up the garage that he was renting and never had another car after that, relying on NYC subways & buses when he couldn't walk.   

 

On my Mom's side, Grandpa bought a brand new Studebaker 4 door sedan in 1935 that the family kept until 1946 when Grandpa died. Since Grandma didn't drive, the car was sold and they rented out the garage.

 

My Dad purchased a new Chevy 2 door sedan in 1952 as a single man. It was his first new car since coming home from service in WWII. He had that car when he & my Mom were married in 1956 and drove to Florida for their honeymoon. My only memories of that car were kicking in the rust behind the passenger door when I was little (and getting in lots of trouble for that!) and the grinding of the gears as my Mom tried to maneuver the gears of the standard transmission. He kept that Chevy until 1963 when Mom & Dad bought a brand new Mercury Comet Custom 2 door sedan with automatic transmission.  He kept the Comet until 1971 when he bought a new Chevy Malibu 4 door sedan with a 305 V8.  Dad was definitely a Chevy guy while his brother preferred Buicks. 

 

Dad only traded up to the Buick line when he retired in 1994. By that time, his brother was driving a Toyota Camry. 

Edited by 6T-FinSeeker
fix typo (see edit history)

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In 1930 my grandpa reached age 21 and to told his dad that we was going to leave the farm. Great-Grampa needed the help, so offered to buy his son a new car if he stayed for a certain # of years.  Gramps picked a new 1930 Chevy 4 door sedan so he could haul all his friends around. He related a bunch of stories to me about adventures in that car, like gaining popularity with friends who never wanted to go with him in the old T farm truck, and trips to the big city,  WHen he told me he junked the car after 6 or 7 years and 60,000 miles I was astounded. He explained that with the oil they had back then, it was very hard on the bearings to start it cold in the winter. It was too thick to lube the rod bearings. He had taken the rods caps off several times and filed them to reduce the clearance, but the crank had gone "flat". The washboard gravel roads shook the body so bad that the metal body panels were falling off the wood framework. He had re-nailed it a several times, but the wood was getting split and chewed up  and the nail holes wallowed out.  It was just plain worn out and not worth fixing anymore. 

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9 minutes ago, Hemi Joel said:

In 1930 my grandpa reached age 21 and to told his dad that we was going to leave the farm. Great-Grampa needed the help, so offered to buy his son a new car if he stayed for a certain # of years.  Gramps picked a new 1930 Chevy 4 door sedan so he could haul all his friends around. He related a bunch of stories to me about adventures in that car, like gaining popularity with friends who never wanted to go with him in the old T farm truck, and trips to the big city,  WHen he told me he junked the car after 6 or 7 years and 60,000 miles I was astounded. He explained that with the oil they had back then, it was very hard on the bearings to start it cold in the winter. It was too thick to lube the rod bearings. He had taken the rods caps off several times and filed them to reduce the clearance, but the crank had gone "flat". The washboard gravel roads shook the body so bad that the metal body panels were falling off the wood framework. He had re-nailed it a several times, but the wood was getting split and chewed up  and the nail holes wallowed out.  It was just plain worn out and not worth fixing anymore. 

It was quite common for cams to go flat, but I've never heard of a crank going flat.

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That can happen when you let a rod bearing get too loose on a babbitted engine. The rod knocks a flat spot on the crank journal. Once that happens, no amount of shimming and bearing scraping will help.

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60,000 miles typical for a 30s Chevrolet. They usually needed an overhaul around 20 - 30,000 and by 50 or 60,000 were worn out or needed a complete rebuild. Usually they were junked at that time if, like the car above, everything else was worn out.

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Posted (edited)

I remember seeing 40s DeSoto ads that said "7 out of 10 DeSotos"  are still on the road.  DeSoto was first made in 1928.   Also when I look at my 4 and 5 year old self on my street in about 1955 in San Diego, there are cars as old as the late 30s parked on our street.  

45desoto.jpg

Edited by marcapra (see edit history)

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  In 1954, a month before I turned 14 and could get a drivers license, I bought a 1947 one owner Chevrolet for $75. ($720 today) It had 61,000 miles, had been overhauled once, had a burnt valve, rods were rattling, but the rings were good. Dad had a truck/ tractor repair shop with a Sioux valve grinding machine so grinding the valves and tightening the rods and mains wasn’t a problem. I remember splitting the exhaust manifold for duals while head was off and then blocking it off until I got the money for duals.

    Hated the car. Wanted a Ford V8. The Chevy had the stubby gear shift lever because they came with the soon to be non-working vacuum assist shift. Two handed gear grinding shifts were the norm. No drag racing here. Ford had the cool long easy shift arm that you could flip to the left side of column making 1st to 2nd almost straight down. Ford had insert bearings and oil pressure so you could rev them up without puckering up.

    Sold the Chevy two months later for $100 and bought a 49 Ford club coupe for $125. Ford turned out to have a cracked block and was a money pit, but boy was it fun. Different block, 3/4 cam, dual carbs, dual exhaust with heat risers blocked, and on and on.

     I believe longevity got a serious foothold in the everyday car in 1955-56.

   

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My father bought a new 1948 Nash station wagon with his profits from selling turkeys that year. It hauled our family of 6 around until 1960 and 160,000 miles. It also doubled as a turkey delivery van with the back seat folded down. He sold the car to a man that used it to deliver bread to stores for a number of years afterwards.

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On ‎3‎/‎23‎/‎2020 at 5:49 PM, Rusty_OToole said:

Another factor is the astonishing lack of style and progress in car design. It used to be every year there were new models distinctly different from last year's and every car factory spent millions to make last year's models look shabby and out of date. You really thought you were getting something better when you traded in your 2 or 3 year old car and in most cases you were. They didn't keep stamping out the same old 4 door sedan for 15 years. Cars had style and performance. Even 50 years later they still have appeal, you can't imagine what impact they had when brand new. They were something more than an appliance. These days you look on a car as if it was a toaster or washing machine, as long as it starts and run why bother changing ? In the old days things were different.

REMEMBER WHEN......

 

that special Friday evening and all day Saturday sometime in September the (once) Big Three had their New Car introductions?  And the showroom windows were often papered over the day previous and earlier in the day on Friday while they were rolling their next-year's models inside and had the big, gala event for everyone, with free pop, and most important, the BROCHUURES?     Damn!  I miss those days!!

 

Craig

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3 hours ago, marcapra said:

Also when I look at my 4 and 5 year old self on my street in about 1955 in San Diego, there are cars as old as the late 30s parked on our street.  

 

Arguably, that area has the most favorable climate for preserving cars, and I can see a handful of 1930's cars still surviving in SD twenty years later as daily drivers.

 

Here, and in the salt belt, cars would never last that long.  Not counting vintage car shows, the only 1930's cars seen on the streets in the 1960's was the odd Hot Rod or two driving around during the summer months. 

 

Craig   

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On 3/23/2020 at 11:53 PM, Rusty_OToole said:

If it were possible to buy a brand new 1965 Mustang, could you look at the Mustang then look at a new Honda Civic, and not want the Mustang? Your soul must be dead if you could. Even though the Honda is a much better car.

I’ll take the mustang in white please 

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Posted (edited)

My dad when alive during the 50s and 60s he only drove 30s cars , probably because that was all he could afford , he was a experienced mechanic and kept them going as long as practical , he then bought another cheap and the old ones sat in the yard and was great for me and friends to play in.  Remember 4 or 5 at least . He eventually managed to buy a three year old anglia before he died and was very proud of it , taught me to drive in it . But sadly we had to sell it when he died to get accommodation for our family. Life goes on .

Edited by Pilgrim65 (see edit history)

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I remember in the 60's  the National Enquirer always had one issue with  pictures of the new model year cars.  

They were "secret" pictures

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Posted (edited)

My Dad bought a new car every three years or so from 1953 on. He was born in 1920 and only had a couple prior to that new one. At the 3 year mark with about 45,000 to 50,000 on then they were due for a brake job, tires, possibly minor engine work, and I have lists of pending jobs that he totaled up and deducted from the cost of the new car. We live in a small town so his trade-in was always wanted.They never sat on the lot long.

 

He bought a 1940 Pontiac coupe in the tough used car market after WWII and traded it up to the new '53 Chevy, '55 Chevy, '59 Chevy, '62 Ford, '63 Ford, '66 Ford, '70 Ford, '73 Ford, and '76 Ford. Died in 1978.

He really wanted a '62 Impala Anniversary hardtop but couldn't deal on one. Once he bought the Ford he was never able to get enough on the trade to get back into a Chevy again.

 

Bernie

Edited by 60FlatTop (see edit history)

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Growing up in the 50's and 60's I can only relate to stories and pictures from the 30's and 40's. There was no definite time line to replace a vehicle, it had more to do with the economic ability of the family. Sure they wanted the nice, new, flashy, models, but we were quite poor at the time. My dad's first new car was a 1950 Chev. Reliable, yes, and it lasted until 1958. In '58 the family dynamics changed for the better. Dad's job improved, new brother, new house, new Buick, life was good. From that time on we had new autos about every 4 yrs. and never drove one over 100,000 miles. Just a rule of thumb I guess. I, on the other hand, never kept a new car over 3 years no matter what the mileage was. Once I retired, I threw that policy out the window and now drive them until the repair bills are more than the car is worth.

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I remember my Uncles would usually keep a car for Five to Six years. My one Uncle would only buy a car with cash. He didn't believe buying on time. So when he saved up enough money, he would spring for a new Chevy or Pontiac.

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6 hours ago, marcapra said:

I remember seeing 40s DeSoto ads that said "7 out of 10 DeSotos"  are still on the road.  DeSoto was first made in 1928.   Also when I look at my 4 and 5 year old self on my street in about 1955 in San Diego, there are cars as old as the late 30s parked on our street.  

45desoto.jpg

That is a great ad for the 1942 DeSoto.. Marcapra , you are right about pre -war cars being around during the 50's. In my neighborhood, Queens, New York,  people were driving cars from the late 30's early 40's into  the late 50's, early 60's. Seems like they all disappeared by the mid to late 60's.

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23 hours ago, padgett said:

Of all the people in my family, my mother was the most car-savvy & had two-door sport coupes. Remember a '58 T'bird then a 61 (I dropped 2nd gear out of the Cruise-o-matic), '64 Grand Prix (dropped the rear end), '69 Cutlass 350, and then a '75 Buick Electra (won a National Fuel Economy Rally in it).

 

My cars were mostly Brits until my first new car, a 67 Camaro (V-8, 4-speed, AC).

 

Back then I was considered strange to be into cars (but then had already been through model trains (Lionel) and model airplanes (with .049 motors) while most felt they were more appliances or accessories. Did feel that until the early '70s, every year the cars got better (except for 1968 when the E-type lost headlight covers) but from 1974 until 1988 it was not politically correct to like cars. Then starting about 1998 the horsepower wars started again and freaks could come out of the closet.

Sounds like young you were the driver of car replacements in your family.  😀

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As always economics had a lot to do with it. In the 50s my Dad worked in the wholesale grocery business as a salesman calling on stores. He did quite well early on and was able to buy new Fords in 1949, 52, and 55. They were always simple two door coupes and he put a lot of miles on. Things got tougher later in the decade, he kept the 55 for 5 years and bought his last new Ford in 1960. We kept those last two cars for at least 10 years, did engine overhauls on both and patched up rust on the bodies. I bought loads of cars to either flip or part out in the 70s and 80s and almost never saw any with mileage over 100,000, in Illinois it was the bodies and frames that went first.

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2 hours ago, John S. said:

I remember my Uncles would usually keep a car for Five to Six years. My one Uncle would only buy a car with cash. He didn't believe buying on time. So when he saved up enough money, he would spring for a new Chevy or Pontiac.

That is what my Dad did ( except it was every ten years) and passed it on to me. He said never put the cart before the horse, meaning you save for a new car first. When you buy a new car you start saving for the next. That way there is no interest payment to the bank. Some people end up paying twice as much money.

Just another lesson from a depression era kid to his kid.

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Posted (edited)
7 minutes ago, TexRiv_63 said:

As always economics had a lot to do with it. In the 50s my Dad worked in the wholesale grocery business as a salesman calling on stores. He did quite well early on and was able to buy new Fords in 1949, 52, and 55. They were always simple two door coupes and he put a lot of miles on. Things got tougher later in the decade, he kept the 55 for 5 years and bought his last new Ford in 1960. We kept those last two cars for at least 10 years, did engine overhauls on both and patched up rust on the bodies. I bought loads of cars to either flip or part out in the 70s and 80s and almost never saw any with mileage over 100,000, in Illinois it was the bodies and frames that went first.

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Looking at your dads cars there and not being top of the line Customline, Fairlane, or Galaxie it's nice to just see the body style without all the bling. To some less is more. They sure made good looking cars.

Edited by Pfeil (see edit history)

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Central Florida is also a "no-rust" area but the sun must be brighter (cleaner air ?) here than in California because interiors are the first thing to go. Of course since am into more interesting cars they were often garaged.

 

Only reason we do not have many cars of the 50s- back like So Cal is that nothing was here BD (before Disney). Was just long stretches of straight TLBs (two lane blacktops) between the coasts where you could find out what the top speed was without bothering anyone.

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Posted (edited)

My daily driver is a 2006 Chrysler town and country minivan with 167,000 miles on it. We bought it new, but the engine was replaced with a used engine at 136,000 miles, and that replacement engine had 100k on it at the time. It's my understanding that these engines typically last much longer than our original did, so we opted to keep the vehicle, replace the engine and get what use we can out of it. (So far so good.)  I could see us keeping the van for another three or four years, which would get us close to 20 years. My wife's daily driver is a 2002 Subaru, also purchased new, so she'll likely go beyond the 20 year mark.

 

The cars we had growing up were kept nowhere near this long. Durability and rust were big factors, but not the only issues. About the time I was born in 1958, my parents got rid of their '47 Hudson (which they bought used, so it was well under 10 years old when they sold it.) They replaced it with a '55 Chevy 2 door sedan, which they traded for a Dodge wagon around 1962 or 3. The wagon was used til 1970 when they bought a one year old Chevy Impala. So 5 to 7 years was the ownership norm for this era of cars in our family. Despite the WW2 generation's frugality, they went through a lot of cars.

 

It's my impression that throughout the '30's '40's an '50's, most obsolescence wasn't planned (as the old auto industry sales strategy goes.) Surely, some styling and features were intended to become dated - and quickly did - but legitimate advancements in automotive technology did more to make old cars undesirable, IMO. Only seven years separates my '54 Ford and my '61 Mercury, but the difference in ride and power is astounding, though they both have a similar number of miles on them (66k vs. 55k.) If you were blindfolded and given a ride in both, there would be no mistaking that the '54 is an old car - it's stiff ride, leaning suspension when taking corners, rattles and winding transmission sounds give it away. The '61, OTOH, would feel like you're riding around in a decently maintained 15 or 20 year old car. In 1950, Plymouth had one engine option, and it made 97 hp. Ten years later that same company offered several engine options, one of them making close to four times the hp of their 1950 model.

 

Youtube is full of these guys starting old cars that haven't been run in decades. The abuse these old engines sometimes receive in getting them going is painful to watch, but it does illustrate a great point: many old cars weren't discarded because they were seriously broken. They were discarded because they needed a minor repair or were somewhat worn or conspicuously dated or used too much gas or didn't have enough power. In other words, they were replaced because a new or newer car was perceived as a better option, at least in the eyes of the owner.

Edited by JamesR (see edit history)
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A lot has always been the perception, is the old car worth bothering. Used to be a joke that could cut your grass and find a car.

One major change in the 50's was the number of people willing to accept a car with a clutch or without AC (Florida).

 

Now that everything is masked and sterilized I am wondering if convertibles will become undesirable.

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